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Posts Tagged ‘Tomasz Konieczny’

R. Strauss’s and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Die Frau ohne Schatten is a tour de force if there ever was one. It draws the line that separates men from boys and women from girls. If one has the intention to stage it or take part in a staging of this work, one must be more than prepared – one must be on the top of his or her game. Reading that the Deutsche Oper am Rhein has decided to stage it in the opera house in Duisburg, I must confess that the idea only seemed promising because an international team has been assembled. This is the kind of opera that cannot be assigned without consideration to ensemble singers, resident director and conductor.

I had seen only one staging by Guy Joosten before – a Roméo et Juliette at the Met, which was hardly earth-shattering, but, with a little help from the Met’s cash flow, beautiful enough. Not this FroSch, it looked downright cheap, poorly built, second-hand. Although Guy Joosten and his dramaturg, who must be his brother or something, seemed to have given a thought of two about the work and stated that the historical context of Hofmannsthal writing his fable in the context of WWI played a great role in their concept, what one sees on stage is so all-over-the-place that it is difficult to say anything. The set is basically a rotating black stadium tier – the upper part with the steps has a salvation-army bed which stands for the Emperor’s stately palace. It is only curious that under the tier, where Barak and his wife are supposed to live, there are purple and blue Arabian-Nights curtains everywhere. OK, this goes more of the less with the libretto and Barak is a dyer. But why then he wears a suit, drinks Budweiser, brings metallic gas balloons home when he is drunk (this Barak has a drinking problem…) and his brothers have a) a Mickey Mouse hat; b) a Chucky Doll mask and c) a Scream mask? Then there are too many examples of characters saying things that they are not doing: Barak and his wife have a long scene about him complaining about a broken mortar after she has warned him of a trespasser. But here he breaks nothing or does nothing at all. Besides a shrew, this Färberin sees things that do not exist. Joosten has seen pictures of dead people in WWI and everything is replaced by extras with bloodstained costumes. Is that all that he’s got? Unless he has given this production free of cost, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein has given away money of its limited budget for nothing. If Plato was right to say that necessity is the mother of invention, then she gave this production to adoption.

Although the Duisburger Philharmoniker (differently from the orchestra at La Scala) is a commited group of musicians, it is unfortunately not up to the herculean task imposed by Richard Strauss, especially the strings, which basically lacked tone throughout. When it has to produce a full sound, the result was often dry, sometimes awkward and often brassy. I was going to write that I would need to see Axel Kober conduct this work with a more seasoned orchestra before I said something, but then I’ve remembered that I did see him conduct FroSch last year in the Deutsche Oper. Although the results were far superior, they were not illuminating either. He does not master the sense of effect of a Karl Böhm and does not keep the proceedings going. The score finally seemed mechanical rather than complex.

Morenike Fadayomi has a rich-toned lyric soprano with some impressive resources: it is capable of heft, has easy top notes, floats adeptly in mezza voce and can keep a line with naturalness. Unfortunately these dramatic soprano (or even jugendlich dramatisch) emplois take her so often to her limits that one has some trouble to see how gifted she is. If she were singing Arabella or the Feldmarschallin rather than Salome or Aida, I bet she would be more of a household name, also because her acting skills are not negligible. As it is, although she acquitted herself quite well in the part trickiest moments, the sound was sometimes strained, sometimes squally, sometimes tremulous and hooty but for her rich-toned high notes. Although Linda Watson treaded carefully when the line took her above the stave and seemed entirely unconcerned in the interpretation department, she sang the role of the Färberin in her warm, spacious soprano without the stridence most singers display here. I would dare to say that her singing of the act 3 duet stands among the smoothest and most lyrical I have ever heard. Susan Maclean seemed not to be in her best voice and the comedy approach required from her robbed her performance of some of its incisiveness. That said, she has the measure of this role vocally and interpretatively. She finds no problem with the difficult writing, handles the text intelligently and produces both powerful chest notes and dramatic acuti at will. The semaphoric gestures, obvious in an almost childish way, chosen by the director are quite annoying, but Maclean showed her professionalism on performing them with miraculous conviction.

As in Zürich, Roberto Saccà’s tenor is far from ingratiating, but he sounds almost comfortable with the high-lying and exposed phrasing of the role of the Emperor. His flowing phrasing in the most strenuous passages is indeed praiseworthy. Tomasz Konieczny sang powerfully as Barak, but his metallic, tightly focused voice basically lacks the necessary warmth and roundness in this role. Maybe because the sound is so forward and driven, he found problem in softening when the composer required gentler dynamics. As I feared, the bad-guy voice that made his thrilling Alberich so intense was not his Alberich-voice, but basically his voice. As the director did not seem to know what to do with Barak (beside the drinking problem), Konieczny sometimes seemed a bit lost on stage too. Finally, James Bobby’s forceful, dark-toned Geisterbote deserves to be mentioned. A name to keep.

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Practice makes perfect and the extra rehearsal time since Wednesday proved most positive to the last item in the first cycle of the Deutsche Oper’s Ring. Although the Gibichungen scene in act I had its longueurs (always a tricky scene for the conductor), this evening’s performance had everything a Wagnerian should expect: the orchestral sound was exemplary, textures were clear yet dense and a palpable sense of theatre, particularly in the passages in which the orchestra has to tell the story alone, a kaleidoscopic account of Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt and a truly incisive  account of the Trauermarsch.

The revival of Götz Friedrich’s staging involves a rather shabby Gibichungenhalle and a poorly timed and unimaginative closing scene. The performance was particularly poorly lit, for catastrophic effects in the Hagen/Alberich scene. I am not sure if I like the idea of incestuous overtones for the Gibichungen either – although it could make sense, Wagner already explored this line of thought in Die Walküre and that should be enough.

This evening, Evelyn Herlitzius seemed determined to prove that she can shade her voice when necessary, but the success of this decision is debatable. She does not master the art of mezza voce and her attempt to soften the tone brought about an unfocused quality that disturbed even more her already unflowing phrasing. As in act II Brünnhilde has very little time for musing, Herlitzius could play her trump card and flash some really exciting Spitzennoten. Although she was in tiny little bit less exuberant form in the Immolation Scene, she still offered a healthy and powerful account of this difficult passage. In spite of all the shortcomings, these Nilssonian acuti are reason enough to reserve her some praise, especially in an age when few sopranos seem able to do something like that. And it does not hurt either the fact that she is a committed singing actress.

As a replacement for Manuela Uhl, Heidi Melton proved to be a most welcome surprise as Gutrune (and as the Third Norn, as originally planned). Her voice is large, bright, firm, focused and remarkably beautiful. If I write that she owes her notable talent a serious attempt to loose some weight, I do not do it out of pettiness. Although she is far from clumsy in the acting department, her overweight might be an obstacle for her casting as Elsa, Elisabeth or Eva, roles which would suit her to perfection. The remaining Norns, Liane Keegan and the fruity-toned Ulrike Helzel, were similarly cast from strength. Only Karen Cargill’s mezzo soprano lacks cutting power for the role of Waltraute and her handling of her registers could be a bit smoother too.

During act I, the evening’s Siegfried, Alfons Eberz, showed such warm tone, clarion top notes and sheer voluminousness that the words “golden age” came to mind. After the first intermission, a slight reduction in harmonics and amplitude would impose upon his performance. That said, I have rarely seen a Siegfried survive in such good shape to his death scene, let alone survive the test of miming the Waldvogel so adeptly as he did today. Any opera house would call itself lucky to secure such a reliable singer in this impossible role.

I had a most positive impression of Markus Brück in his performance as Wolfram last year in the Deutsche Oper, but since then I have to confess that his singing in the Wagner Wochen’s Meistersinger and in this Ring showed a rather unalluring vocal nature, very different from the smooth- and round-toned quality he displayed as Wolfram. To make things worse, his hamming, unaided by awful make-up and a costume unbecoming to his disadvantageous physique, simply ruined the role of Gunther for me. I cannot say how much the Spielleitung is to blame, but I understand that the character as written by Wagner is not supposed to be something of a ridiculous clown. Tomasz Komieczny’s last appearance in the Ring crowned a faultless performance. Any staging of the Ring that takes itself seriously these days must feature his Alberich in its cast. Pity that the role of Hagen has now become a bit of a stretch for Matti Salminen, whose performance in this role I had the pleasure to see at the Met in 1997. Back then no orchestra was too loud for him. Today he has to cheat a bit, but his charisma and experience finally pay off in his uniquely sinister and menacing approach to this complex role.

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Third time lucky – even if luck probably has little to do with that. The name of the trick is “more rehearsal time”, and the result is that Donald Runnicles could finally show his credentials in this cycle. The audience was treated to top class orchestral playing – strings zipped adeptly through passagework, brass offered noble playing, expressive woodwind solos and properly otherworldly sounds in Brünnhilde’s awakening. The richer orchestral sound, rhythmic alert cast and flowing tempi concurred to a most agile account of the score – one could barely feel how long is an opera where theatre often gives pride of place to musical values.

This feeling was certainly aided by the casting of singers in key roles with excellent stage performances: the leading tenor is energy itself, looks and acts convincingly boyishly and is so comfortable with his forging duties that I would not be surprised if someone told me he was actually a blacksmith for a while; his Mime is an all-round accomplished actor and the Alberich is, as in Rheingold, a true find. Pity that Spielleiter Søren Schumacher gave the Nibelungen some very silly movements abounding in hopping and flapping the arms. Other than this, the stage action was quite well-timed, especially in act I. It is a pity that the soprano seemed entirely clueless and marred the closing scene with meaningless antics. Although Act I’s scenery has more than a splash of high school pantomime, the blacksmith shop is so convincingly arranged that one tended to overlook the prevailing kitsch. Erda’s African tent in act III represents a woeful misfire, but the idea of a mechanic dragon for Fafner is well-done if entirely unrelated to the aesthetics here adopted. And when Wagner wrote “Stimme des Waldvogels” in the score he knew what he meant – no sopranos  ludicrously dressed as in a carnival parade hanging from a rope.

Stefan Vinke’s stage performance as Siegfried is so likable that one makes an effort to forgive the vocal glitches. Therefore, let us start with the positive aspects – he is certainly healthy, has stamina to sell and no problem with singing a tempo, even in the rather fast tempi chosen to exciting effects by Runnicles for the forging song. His basic sound (and a couple of mannerisms) makes me think of René Kollo, including his ability to pull back to mezza voce when necessary, albeit one  seriously misguided about vocal placement. The approach is extremely forward and nasal and above the passaggio everything is extremely tight, straight-toned, muscular and short in harmonics. It is indeed remarkable that he was able to sing forte high notes like that – and sustain them – in a manner so stressful for the vocal chords. Considering the difficulty and length of the role, he even showed himself relatively untired in the end of the evening.

If you are a partisan of the sugar-rush approach to Mime, then Burkhard Ulrich offered a varied and imaginative account of the role. I’ve grown up feeling relieved when Wolfgang Windgassen finally put an end to Gerhard Stolze and always wish that someone like Graham Clarke  (whom I had the pleasure to see in the Met’s Siegfried back in 1997) take this role.

Although Egils Sillins’s bass-baritone is a bit timid in the lower reaches and has its throaty moments, it is also spacious, firm and forceful enough for the Wanderer. Nevertheless, he was actually upstaged by the impressive Tomasz Konieczny in the opening of act II. The Polish bass-baritone is arguably the best Alberich on stage these days. It is a pity that Andrea Silvestrelli could not sing Fafner today – his voice is particularly well-suited to this role. That said, Ante Jerkunica offered a faultless performance of this small but important role. Ewa Wolak remains an impressive Erda, but Burcu Uyar’s unfocused singing spoiled a bit the fun in the part of the Waldvogel.

Unfortunately, Janice Baird was visibly uncomfortable in the part of Brünnhilde. She was often under the note, got lost now and then and fought with the tessitura. When she could relax, as in the Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich lyric moments, she showed welcome keenness for legato, but she rarely had the opportunity and, in the end, the impression was rather of tentativeness.

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After the Wagner Wochen, I have to confess my expectations about the Deutsche Oper Ring have been kept low. This is probably why I am not terribly upset by the frankly unsatisfactory Rheingold presented today as I was when I left the theatre after that dreadful Lohengrin.

To start with, Götz Friedrich’s 1984 production belongs to its age – it makes movies like Flashdance or Xanadu look like an example of timeless design. The basic set, although reminiscent of the Washington Metro, offers a large-scaled, interesting perspective. But that’s the only positive thing to say about the visual aspects of this staging. The scene under the Rhine was a matter of transparent fabrics that could have worked in a rather predictable way, if someone had decided to test the mechanism before the performance. The screens hanged rather loosely until one of them got caught somewhere. Then, it had to be ripped from its pipe lest the opera be interrupted for repairs. The whole episode in the Nibelheim is decidedly provincial (the complex stage contraption giving rather a contrived than awe-inspiring impression) and the scenes on Wotan’s mountaintop look depressively poor. Peter Sykora’s costumes are so ugly, drab and dirty that you feel like throwing a 5 cent coin on stage as a donation for the gods. To make things worse, Søren Schuhmacher’s Spielleitung basically consists of letting actors do whatever they seem fit, except for silly choreographies that make the ordinary opera silly choreographies look clever. Not to mention that scenes involving physical interaction seemed poorly rehearsed. I left the theatre wishing for a concert performance.

I had never seen Donald Runnicles conduct any Ring opera, but for the first two acts of a Walküre at the Met, of which I had a very positive impression, especially in what regards the quality of the orchestral sound. Not today. The performance started with the wrong foot – brass were so poorly pitched that I prayed that the strings begin soon. They did begin – albeit in very restricted volume, a situation which persisted through the whole length of the opera, with the exception of Alberich’s curse, in which the decision to drown the baritone seems to have been taken. I wish I could single out something positive – like tempi did not drag – but the sound picture was simply wrong for this music and Wagner’s multicoloured effect failed to work against the prevailing matte atmosphere.

Although the cast had no weak performance, only the Poles offered something to tell home about. Tomasz Konieczny’s forceful, dark-toned Alberich displayed the necessary intensity lacking almost everywhere else in this production and Ewa Wolak’s rich-toned, extremely concentrated Erda created alone the impact her scene has to offer. Although Judit Németh’s mezzo is a bit high for the Rheingold’s Fricka, she coloured her text knowingly. Burkhard Ulrich’s Loge was dexterous enough, handled his lines with clarity and found no problem in Loge’s sinuous writing. I prefer more heroic-sounding Loges, but there is nothing to fault, but instead much to praise in his performance. Andrea Silvestrelli’s cavernous Fafner, ideally partnered by Reinhard Hagen’s more focused Fasolt, is also worthy of mention. When it comes to Mark Delavan’s Wotan, it must be noted that his voice is noble sounding and reasonably large in its lower reaches. His bass-baritone has the proper sound for the role, but not necessarily the full impact. However, what might have disturbed a couple of members of the audience, who finally booed him in the curtain calls, is the undeniable lack of experience in the part. Although he was too clearly prompted, he still had some trouble with the text and, therefore, could not help but skating on the surface of the role. I hope that Die Walküre finds him a little bit more prepared!

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